After the stillborn Turkish-Armenian protocols in 2009, the (non)relations between both countries hit rock bottom in an unprecedented way, creating an atmosphere of deep mistrust, especially among official circles in Armenia. The latest manifestation of this was President Serge Sarkisian’s strongly worded “To hell with your ratification” statement at the UN General Assembly in September 2014, threatening to recall the protocols from the Armenian Parliament—a decisive stance for a politician in a region, where popularity rests on demonstration of power and bravado.
Armenian officials often convey that the Turkish government mortally offended the goodwill of the Armenian side, pointing to Turkish duplicity and double standards, especially in regards to the Karabagh conflict: Turkey had set up its resolution in favor of Azerbaijan as a precondition for ratifying the protocols. The Armenian mainstream media regularly stresses how Turkey drowned the Armenians’ good intentions in a sea of hypocrisy, lies, imperial arrogance, and an unwillingness to face the past or to consider anyone’s interests but their own.
And yet, despite the legitimacy of such statements, the issue is not whether the Turkish side or the Armenian side is “correct”; the two sides have conclusively formed separate camps, unable to understand and unwilling to listen to each other. The Turkish government is unwavering in its policy of denying the Armenian Genocide on all fronts, while the Armenian government is stuck in time with quasi-Soviet ceremonial activities devoid of profound global substance.
This is the main factor that will cast its shadows upon the 100-year anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. However archaic and reactionary Turkey’s denialist policy may seem, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s references to “the ugly Armenians” aside, snarling at the duplicitous Turkish government won’t provide adequate foundation for creating a meaningful social and political atmosphere in Armenia and the diaspora on the eve of the Centennial, even though Armenians clearly have the moral high ground.
One of the first achievements of the Genocide Centennial Organizing Committee, which was appointed by the Armenian government under the supervision of the Diaspora Ministry, was to create logos and signs for the commemoration to be printed on T-shirts, badges, posters, etc. New pop genre “patriotic” songs by groups of stars and celebrities dressed in folkloric or military uniforms are being produced by government-linked TV stations. The judiciary and police are taking their professional oaths at the Armenian Genocide Memorial. These, among other similar examples, are reminiscent of the ritualistic fashion with which the Diaspora Ministry, and Armenian authorities in general, deal with events that could play a more inclusive role—and could convey messages replete with ideas, values, and principles that take our struggle for justice one level up.
This could have been considered a happy ending if the head of the genocide centennial organizing committee Mr. Hayk Demoyan had not declared that nine out of ten of those Armenian civil society groups collaborating on projects with civil society groups in Turkey are “serving enemy policies.” Mr. Demoyan, who is also the director of the Armenian Genocide museum in Yerevan, didn’t come short of accusing another fellow academic of treason. Later, he tried to deny it, but recordings of his public statements had already been disseminated through the media.
However, the seasonal witch-hunt was launched before Mr. Demoyan’s statements. Recently, academics from Yerevan State University launched a vicious attack on Turkish writer Hasan Cemal, who wrote a book titled The Armenian Genocide 1915, accusing him of siding with Azerbaijan regarding the Karabagh conflict, among many other claims. The Armenian social media was flooded with similar statements and angry reactions. Ironically, this time it was the Armenians who placed Karabagh as a precondition in front of a Turkish person, who happens to be one of the few in Turkey who recognizes the Armenian Genocide and does not shy away from talking about compensation, despite the fact that most Armenians may not agree with him on various regional issues.
This was followed by another public event that called for boycotting vacationing in Turkey. Although the idea might resonate with many cool-headed Armenians, it seemed dubious, as December is obviously not tourism season.
The notion of “good intentioned nationalism” has been put forward by some of the cheerleaders of the above-mentioned wave of reactions in Armenia lately. This idea is naive at best. The very terms “good intentions” and “nationalism” are counterintuitive. Good intentions imply a willingness to make compromises and find a common ground between two sides. Nationalism, by contrast, is exclusionist and means no longer being able to set good intentions as a principle while taking a stance on issues.
Tough nationalism, being “anti-Turkey” and intra-Armenian racism as an end in itself have become the leitmotif of Armenia’s preparations for the Centennial. It has become the litmus test of patriotism, along with media accusations that the “EU and Turkey are financing pro-Turkish programs” in Armenia. That jumble of unprincipled, opportunistic journalism, primitive television propaganda, and primeval myths about how the world wants to enslave Armenia and push it to its knees is no vision for the future. It is only a horror story borrowed from the dusty past that offers no constructive plan or direction.
This cannot fill the existing ideological void ahead of the Centennial. A country that should set the highest lessons of humanity to the world cannot win its respect by constantly denouncing conspiracy theories and parading every year while repeating the same record over and over again.
What is needed is to formulate an image for the future of Armenia and our people, similar to any other developed society, without letting the country degenerate into unbridled and primitive chauvinism.